Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine – a tribute to Fr. Carl Pulvermacher, O.F.M.

This originally appeared in the August 2006 Angelus

I never had the honor of meeting Fr. Carl. But, as I did the interviews necessary to compile a proper tribute to him, a pattern began to emerge. Everyone kept saying the same things – that he was a truly happy and holy priest who worked tirelessly for the Faith. And it is supremely appropriate for this magazine that he helped found to do a tribute to him.

Father Carl Pulvermacher came from a family of 9 children. He would, like three of his brothers, enter the Capuchin Order, where he would remain as a priest for 56 years, though the last 26 of them were spent working with the Society of St. Pius X.

In the 1960s, Father worked in Montana as a pastor to about 6 different Indian reservations. He had a pilot’s license and often had many stories to tell about traveling from one reservation to another. But this was just in his early years.

In the early 1970s, Father was forced to choose between the Mass of All Time and the Novus Ordo that was being foisted on Catholics worldwide. Following in the vein of many of his contemporaries, it is said that he said the Tridentine Mass privately while saying the New Mass publicly. In an attempt to bring him up to speed with the “new springtime” of the Church where he might “get with the times” faster, Father was providentially transferred to Australia, where he met Archbishop Lefebvre.

It was probably in his time spent with the Archbishop that Fr. Carl gained the steel necessary to resist his superiors, for when they confronted him (at the end of 1975) with the choice of saying the New Mass or leaving, he chose the better part, and left.

This is the time when Father’s history with the Society began, and why this magazine even exists today.

The story started in Dickinson, Texas, where with Fr. Hector Bolduc, Fr. Carl served as one of a handful priests for an entire United States. Surely his days of making mission runs to his Indian parishes had prepared him for the travel – but he was probably not prepared for the thirst of souls for the vivifying Immemorial Mass.

At this time (1976) Father would trade off with Father Bolduc in 7-10 day Mass circuits – Dickinson on Sunday, San Antonio on Monday, Dallas on Tuesday, New Orleans on Wednesday, Kansas City on Thursday, and so on. It was in a moment of rest from one of these mission runs that Carlita Brown, who saw Father 7 days a week for 15 years, recalls a moment sitting around the table where the “What’s next?” question among the Fathers led to the answer “Let’s start a magazine!” Mind you, they had just finished painting the rectory of Queen of Angels in Dickinson – where they had spent many months of hard work.

Al Matties recounted to me that this property in Dickinson had come into the hands of the Society through quite a bit of work – not only did the property have to be bought 3rd party so as not to alert the Diocese to the planned “crime” of celebrating the True Mass, but when the Society did obtain the property they found it in need of much rebuilding. Indeed, the church in question, which was called “True Cross” and had an accompanying large crucifix as part of the building (like St. Vincent de Paul in Kansas City), was judged as “too-Catholic” looking and such anomalies were to be discarded in the “new opening” to the world of the Church in the 1970s.

The church stood on the spot where the original church structure – which was named St. Joseph’s and had been moved to the side when the new church went up – was and had no pews, chipped floor tiles, no altar railing, and no altar. In fact, they found an altar stone out in the garage buried under some other so-considered “junk.” Many faithful came to work at the church at all hours of the day during the week in order to get the parish into serviceable condition. In the meantime confessions were heard in the pantry.

It was in the midst of this tireless effort of the faithful that Fr. Carl’s indefatigable spirit turned to the Angelus Magazine. If you were to visit the magazine and press’s current location on Forest Avenue in Kansas City – you would find a modern structure with offices, computers, a warehouse, and air conditioning – the last, which from talking to some of the early workers of the Angelus, would have been a very nice thing.

But in these heady early days the Angelus was serviced by a printing press that Fr Carl kicked or fiddled with every 20 minutes to keep running. But thankfully Father Carl was handy. Handy is really an understatement. Father was a genius for mechanical things. He could take apart a wristwatch and put it back together. Ever a priest, he didn’t only have trust and confidence in his own mechanical abilities…

The printing press back then had a camera that was used in order to prep works for typesetting and the camera just would not work. Father Carl worked and worked and worked at trying to get it to function, but to no avail. Remembering that God picks up where we leave off, Father went into the rectory, took some holy water, sprinkled it on the camera, said some prayers, and lo and behold, the camera worked.

As I said, the modern Angelus building has no resemblance to what the early Angelus workers worked in. Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre Volume I, Michael Davies’ seminal work defending the Archbishop from the libelous insults he received from the Conciliar Church authorities, was 256 stacks of paper almost 6 feet high. There were no funds for a collator (a device that binds pages together in preparation for binding into a book) so parishioners would literally pick up sheets in order and when they got to around page 30, they would make a stack for another parishioner who would collate those 30 pages. And that’s how the first 5000 copies of the Apologia got printed. Father Carl ran the press almost continually and parishioners contributed what little free time they had to essentially manually collate and bind this book.

When he wasn’t cranking out pages of books for literally hours on end, Father was helping to typeset the articles and add his own column – “Ask Me” which was the forerunner of today’s Questions and Answers section with Fr. Peter Scott. Father was known for short and simple answers, though he was almost always late getting his column in. One time the entire magazine was printed save his column, and when one of the workers went in to press him to finish it, he replied cheerfully: “these questions are all too hard, ask me something else next month!

Father Carl loved working in the print shop. Often the little children would come in to try and help out. Father suffered these little ones to come unto him and often gave them little tasks to do like stacking paper or sweeping up – just enough to keep them occupied and around.

Father was known for being tireless, and even better, to never complain. One of the times he was seen with an enormous grin on his face was upon the relating of a story from Fr. Bolduc. Father had just come back from Econe where he had met with the Archbishop on some important business regarding the work in the United States. In the middle of the meeting the mail was delivered by the secretary and enclosed was the newest copy of the Angelus. The archbishop stopped the meeting, flipped to Fr. Carl’s “Ask Me” and read it all the way through. When he was finished he resumed the meeting. When Father Carl heard this he was very happy, and it was often noted that he and the Archbishop shared a very close kinship.

Indeed there is a handwritten letter from the Archbishop to Fr. Carl that was written about 8 months before His Grace passed away. The English translation reads:

The years go by and the end draws near. How I long to quit this world where only disorder reigns. How we long to see each other at last, face to face. How I long to be ‘ubi iustitia habitat.’” These words would so well also sum up Fr. Carl’s sentiments at the end of his life.

Father served as “managing editor” (meaning, he did a little and a lot of everything) of the Angelus until it moved to Kansas City in 1990. There it came under the management of (editorialize needed history). In those early days in Dickinson the crew would always sit down for a moment and say: “I can’t believe we did another one.”

Speaking of Kansas City, the faithful there were very anxious for sacraments, having been deprived of true priests and the True Mass for so long. Soon Mass alone became Mass and Benediction. Then Mass, Benediction, and Rosary. Then those things in addition to visiting the sick in the homes and in the hospitals.

One day after going with faithful to plant crosses around Kansas City to protect it from natural disasters, Fr. Carl said to Fr. Bolduc: “You’ve got Kansas City next week. Watch out for the ‘spiritual bandits.’” And here again we see Father’s sense of humor – never complaining about the work the faithful asked him to do – but making light of it – no doubt to lighten the mood between those many hundreds of thousands of miles of travel.

In the midst of all this parish work and dedication to the work of propagating the magazine and good books, sometimes it can be forgotten that he was a religious who had taken a vow of poverty. But he never forgot that. Many people throughout the years had sent him checks for thousands of dollars. Fr. Daniel Cooper found them in Father’s room in Dickinson years later and when he called Father in Florida to ask what to do with them, he said: “throw them away.”

On one occasion parishioners mistook what the Fathers saw as practicality as holy poverty. On the mission runs it was important to never have checked luggage because if the luggage didn’t arrive then Mass couldn’t be said. Furthermore, it was a blessing when carry-ons fit well into the overhead compartments. Thus these bags became very worn, but the Fathers didn’t want new ones because those bags were the perfect shape and size for their needs. The good-hearted parishioners, thinking the Fathers very in love with holy poverty, proceeded to give both Fr. Bolduc and Fr. Carl literally 15 pieces of luggage each. Surprised, both of them didn’t know what to do with them and gave quite a few away. They ended up keeping the old ones because they were the perfect shape and served their purpose.

But while he did not accept money, (but accepted luggage) he often did accept the offers of dinner from his parishioners. Being a Capuchin he enjoyed good food (especially boiled crabs) and drink and such food and drink after some time produced the predictable effect of a more rotund Father Carl. Father noticed this growing belly and one day he showed up with a flashing light on his habit under which read “Please don’t feed the Father.” Father truly enjoyed the ritual of food, drink, and conversation, and while it may be said he “never met a food he didn’t like” he managed to enjoy his food while never being a glutton.

When asked what to do in the present crisis, Father once responded: “Learn your faith and hold on to it. For priests and brothers: be faithful to your recitation of the Divine Office…where Mass is not available, keep Sunday holy as best as you can…hold on to your Rosary and be faithful to your devotion to Mary.”

That isn’t the only quote that parishioners remember. Irene Slovak told me of a “spirit of Martha” moment where she was bustling about here and there and still felt something lacking – she told Father that she still needed something “more” spiritually. He replied to her: “It is enough to live as a Catholic.” And indeed, in these troubled times it is enough of a call to sanctity to simply live those words. The Church of the 1970s and 1980s was not any easier to live in than today’s Church, and his words resonate more than ever.

Father counseled many parishioners and often was heard to remark (with a twinkle in his eye): “Oh thank God I never got married – you women are so difficult!” But he also said in response to the difficulties that mothers often face (with a similar twinkle) “All mothers will go to heaven.”

A parishioner recounted that once she had gone to the 2nd Mass of a Sunday just to hear a particular sermon of Father’s again – in which he had essentially stated that when Our Lord was crucified, he could look out at all of us throughout time and know whether we would have been at the foot of the Cross. She said that that simple mediation has always stayed with her (and well might it stay with us).

Another parishioner once asked Father how it was possible that the Church was doing what she was doing. He replied that “When the bishops as a whole exonerated the Jews for the death of Christ, they themselves took on the blindness of the Jews.”

And nowhere was the death and suffering of Our Lord more deeply commemorated than a Good Friday Stations of the Cross at Dickinson in the late 1970s. Father Carl had been suffering from kidney stones and he still did every station, each genuflection causing tears to come to his eyes, and in the late stations, they were just rolling down his cheeks. As he finished the stations he went out the backdoor into an ambulance and went directly to the hospital. None of the parishioners there that day ever forgot that.

Yet the scene was to be repeated later in his life. In his final sickness he returned to Dickinson from Florida. He was unable to say Mass due to a broken shoulder, though he wanted to be well enough to say a private Mass on Easter Sunday, which he did do. However, his last public act in Dickinson was to lead the faithful in Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. In Irene Slovak’s words:

How very special it was to see Father Carl come onto the altar in his habit to lead us in the Way of the Cross. His voice was weak and slow but it brought back the memory of another Good Friday when he valiantly led the prayers that walked us through Our Lord’s last public act of His life. Somehow it seemed fitting that Father Carl should approach his own end in this way. For some of us, Good Friday and the Way of the Cross will always be connected to special memories of Father Carl.”

Sue Broussard shared with me that “his vocation was his whole life, never more, never less – he genuinely lived his vocation.” It reminded me of a sermon Bishop Williamson once gave on the occasion of the profession of vows for a new brother of the SSPX in which he used nearly those exact words – that God simply asks us to live our vocation – nothing more, nothing less.

Father came back to Dickinson from Florida in February of this year, knowing that he was in his final months. His love of poverty and total detachment of the world at this point manifested itself in the fact that he had only brought himself, a rosary, and a briefcase.

Father had 4 home nurses and related that as he was shuttled around for tests and chemotherapy and more tests and injections that he felt a lot like Our Lord going from Annas and Caiaphas to Pilate to Herod. He was pleased to make up in his members the sufferings that were lacking to the Body of Christ.

Many would ask Father to pray for them, but he could only respond that he could not pray (indeed, he was unable to say his Mass or Breviary since the preceding May when he had been diagnosed with the final stage of his illness) but would offer his sufferings for them.

On April 24th, the feast of St. Mark, he went into cardiac arrest. He was revived en route to the ER. Fr. Gregory Post gave him Extreme Unction, and Father spent his last 5 weeks in the Intensive Care Unit.

Those last 5 weeks were the fitting end for this missionary servant of God. He lay on his bed, virtually crucified. He had a respirator that fed into his lungs, assisting his breathing, a tube that went up his nostril down to his duodenum to assist with fluids and nutrition, and no less than 5 different tubes feeding into his chest for different medical reasons.

One of his caregivers, about a week before he died, said: “Father, this year you may get to celebrate Ascension Thursday with Our Lord Himself.” Father blinked his eyes together hard and shed a few tears. He fervently desired such a thing.

During the final ten days the visiting parishioners and hospital staff observed Father Carl raising his hands in an arc over his head as if he were elevating the host. He would do this 10-15 times a day in these final days. Keeping in mind that his arm was still broken and virtually useless, Father still ”offered Mass” in the only way possible to him.

His prayers for a good death were granted him. He died holding a Rosary in his right hand, a crucifix with a relic of the True Cross in his left, a brown scapular around his neck, and his gaze resting upon a stand-up crucifix while the “Quam delicta” was being read to him. Surely we wish for such a death, and it was the only appropriate way for such a servant to depart this existence. In hearing this we recall the Archbishop’s words in the letter to Fr. Carl: “how I long to be ubi iustitiate habitat.” The name of the hospital where Fr. Carl died is called “Triumph.” And well it was – a holy triumph.

I had started the interviews for this article before I had gone to cover Ordinations in Winona and though I had never had the pleasure of meeting Father, my impression from those who knew him resonated with some words from the rite of Ordination of Priests:

May they, by gravity of demeanor and strictness of life, prove themselves to be elders, trained according to the principles which Paul set down for Titus and Timothy. May they keep Thy law before their minds day and night, believe what they read, teach what they believe, and practice what they teach. May they show forth in their person justice, constancy, mercy, fortitude, and all other virtues, be leaders by their example, inspire strength by exhortation, and preserve the gift of their ministry pure and undefiled; may they change by a holy benediction bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Thy Son for the worship of Thy people. And having kept their conscience pure and true their faith in never failing charity, may they rise on the day of God’s just and final judgment, full of the Holy Ghost, as perfect men, in the full measure of the age of Christ.”

Amen.

I wish to thank Irene Slovak, Carlita Brown, Al Matties, and Sue Broussard – early parishioners and volunteers for the Angelus and Queen of Angels. They (along with some other sources that wished to remain anonymous) helped me with some of the source material for this piece, and all those who helped Father throughout the years. Also thanks to Mr. Kenneth Fisher for his SperoNews article from which I sourced some information about Father Carl.

Stephen Heiner

Stephen lives in Paris, France, where he attends Mass celebrated by the clergy of the IMBC. He founded True Restoration in 2006.

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8 Responses

  1. Augustine says:

    Is Father Carl Pulvermacher the brother of Lucian Pulvermacher, the anti-pope who goes by the name Pius XIII?

    http://www.truecarpentry.org/tccwww/cathwww/pope/

  2. Patricius says:

    Why don't you cover this interesting point about his brother and Fr. Pulvermacher's opinion of his brother's conclavism?

  3. Patricius

    1. Because this is an obit, not a piece about his brother.

    2. Because it's the Angelus, and they would have edited out any work I would have done on it.

    3. But most importantly, I didn't know about it until a year or so after I wrote this piece! 🙂

  4. frank0497 says:

    Is that prayer of the Rite of Priest Ordination part of the Novus Ordo ritual or does it belong to the pre-Vatican II rite? Can you please clarify?

  5. Frank

    I'm not entirely certain I understand your question, but let me try to answer.

    Both the rite of priestly ordination as well as that of episcopal consecration was changed after Vatican II.

    The prayer referred to in the piece is from the pre-Vatican II rite, which bears absolutely no resemblance to the new rite.

    Does that help?

  6. frank0497 says:

    Stephen, thank you for your reply to my question and I do apologize for not being clear enough and now please allow me to re-formulate my question: what renders the Novus Ordo priestly prayer ordination invalid? I understand the ommission or absence of the word "sacrifice" is what makes the NO new ordination rite invalid. Am I right?

  7. Frank

    I did not take a position in this article, nor on my website, that the new rite of priestly ordination is definitely invalid. I would refer you to other sources that question it to continue your research.